Wings on Their Wheels

Christine Bourgeois, Denise Clark, and Jill Gass

2013 Velo Wings Award Winners (left to right): Jill Gass, Denise Clark, and Christine Bourgeois.
Dan Girard

Photo Caption: The 2013 Velo Wing Awardees: Jill Gass, Denise Clark and Christine Bourgeois

Photo Credit: Daniel Girard

May is CycleMAYnia! The month has been filed with cycling events for all ages and abilities. I watched the Tour of California leaders celebrate victory. Earlier, three women cyclists were recognized by our cycling community for their leadership.

During the Vietnam War, a young lieutenant gave one of the best definitions of leadership I’ve ever heard. I wish I could remember the name of the book where I read it, but in the interview he talks about how, when his platoon was preparing to go out on patrol, he would make sure everyone knew their role, had weapons fully loaded, adequate supplies of food and water, and radio dialed to the right frequency. That wasn’t leadership, he said; that was coordination.

Leadership, he said, started when he was the first soldier to step from the safe gloom of the tree-shaded jungle onto the brightly lit dirt path.

Howard Booth

This year, the Velo Wings awards go to three women who lead: Christine Bourgeois, Denise Clark, and Jill Gass.

Christine Bourgeois: Christine Bourgeois was born and raised in France. Her first cycling experience was learning to ride a red bike on her parents’ farm in the French countryside. As she grew older, bike riding gave Christine self-confidence and a sense of freedom and independence.

In high school, the allure of a car was irresistible. She first rediscovered the joys of cycling for everyday transportation more than 20 years ago when she moved to Washington, D.C., to study. Then, in 2000, she relocated to Santa Barbara with her husband, Dave, and they both became avid cyclists and world travelers. They were part of the group of dedicated cyclists who in 2008 founded Bici Centro.

From the beginning, Christine saw the need for bike education. She developed the curriculum of the most popular class at Bici Centro, the eight-week Learn Your Bike series. She is now a certified League Cycling instructor, and she loves to work with young adults. For the last three years, as the education director for the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, Christine has been leading the development and implementation of a countywide education campaign to promote safe bicycling for transportation and recreation. She has been expanding successful after-school Earn-A-Bike programs (Pedal Power) and offering bilingual adult bike clinics for workplaces.

Christine believes that the bike education programs in the States should emulate the European model where all schools include biking as a part of their regular curriculum. Until then, Christine will be satisfied to see kids’ smiles as, one by one, they learn to ride and fix their own bikes.

By helping our children, Christine is looking forward to where our wheels will roll. She’s giving back and giving Santa Barbara’s future cyclists wheels and wings. Allez, allez!

Denise Clark: By day, Denise Clark, a native Santa Barbarian, is a busy upbeat accountant for our local government. On her bike, Denise’s passion has included long-distance touring, a series of double centuries, and competitive road racing, culminating with the successful completion of the arduous Race Across America relay. She always wants to see how far she can push herself to accomplish things that most cyclists don’t even dream about attempting

Denise has been training and racing in Santa Barbara for the last 21 years and is a member of B4T9 Cycling and Echelon Santa Barbara, currently serving on the board.

She said she cycles because riding brings her emotional and physical satisfaction. For the past 12 years, she has organized a group of dedicated riders every Tuesday and Thursday at noon, who can be found pace lining, interspersed with sprinting, on a loop out to Carpinteria and back. This break from work is a time to socialize with old friends, mentor new ones, and invigorate her body and mind while enjoying the beauty of Santa Barbara.

Denise not only inspires fellow cyclists but also will take the time to help riders along the way. She was riding San Marcos Pass recently and noticed a novice cyclist descending awkwardly ahead of her. Recognizing some of the same problems she has when riding downhill, she said, “Hi!” and took advantage of a teachable moment, offering a few tips on handlebar hand positioning and drafting as they rode together. Helping other cyclists to ride stronger and safer is important to Denise. If you ride our local roads, sooner or later you’ll see Denise and some of her crew. She’ll have a smile, an encouraging word, or a riding tip for you.

Jill Gass:Jill Gass fell in love with cycling when the training wheels came off her first bike. She still remembers the feeling of exhilaration and fear as her dad ran beside her on a street in a small farm town in Texas. For over 25 years now, Jill has been riding beside other cyclists – encouraging, coaching, mentoring, and sharing her enthusiasm. She advocates for women’s cycling and raises awareness about the sport of women’s bike-racing.

For women new to cycling, the idea of riding on the road can be daunting and anxiety-producing. Fifteen years ago, Jill founded a weekly “no-drop” bike ride specifically for women. She started the ride for two reasons: to encourage women to try riding on the road in a safe, fun situation and to promote the positive experience of women’s bike racing. With her help, women have gained the skills to become confident road cyclists and have progressed to participating in charity rides, centuries, and racing.

Jill started racing bikes in 1992. Her most memorable race and greatest sense of accomplishment and community support was Race Across America (RAAM). In 2008, she was a member of the Kalyra RAAM team that raced coast to coast in just over seven days. Currently, she is a Category 2 racer riding for the B4T9 Women’s Cycling team.

Team support and camaraderie are important concepts for Jill. “Being part of a cycling team is not about the individual,” she said. “It’s about the bigger picture.” Regardless of how women cyclists place during a race or event, Jill stresses the importance of receiving support from each other while participating in a very demanding sport. “It’s not just about riding your bike; it’s about challenging yourself,” she explained. “Even the most elite riders are taken out of their comfort zone every time they race. There’s a positive reward to doing that.”

While we are on the topic of great women cyclists, I want to thank my co-columnist Erika Lindemann for her leadership over the past two years. It’s been a pleasure writing the Pedal On column as a team. I know she isn’t going away – she’ll contribute as a guest columnist – but I will miss our frequent conversations about bikes, advocacy, and cycling culture.

It’s a privilege to write about women who lead on the bright path of cycling and life.


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